Another charge of misconduct in public office is to be laid against former Minister of Finance Dr. Ashni Singh and former head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) Winston Brassington, stemming from the controversial sale of the former Sanata Textiles Complex to Queens Atlantic Investment Inc (QAII).
Singh, 45, of Lot 129 Goedverwagting, East Coast Demerara, and Brassington, 50, of 118 Cowan Street, Kingston, were both absent when the charge was brought before acting Chief Magistrate Sherdel Isaacs-Marcus in Georgetown yesterday.
As a result, the charge, which alleges that the property was sold at a grossly undervalued price to QAII, was neither sworn to nor read.
It states that Singh, performing the duties of Minister of Finance and Chairman of the NICIL, and Brassington, as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NICIL, between October 26th, 2010 and December 20th, 2010 at Lot 126 Barrack Street, Kingston, Georgetown, by way of agreement of sale and purchase, acted recklessly when they sold the Sanata Textiles Complex with building and erections thereon, being 18.1871 acres, to QAII for $697,864, 800 plus VAT, knowing that the said property was valued at the sum of $1,042,403, 500 and was therefore sold at a price that was grossly undervalued, thereby creating a breach of their duties.
Attorney Stanley Moore, who spoke on behalf of the absent defendants, told the court that prior to a ruling made by Justice Franklyn Holder to stay proceedings of a similar nature against the men pending a challenge in the High Court, Principal Magistrate Judy Latchman, who is hearing the other charges, had granted an adjournment until June 29th. He noted that the men were unaware that new charges would be filed and that they were out of the jurisdiction but would be at court before Magistrate Latchman at the scheduled date.
The attorney for the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) then told the court that the charges against the duo were filed on Thursday.
Subsequently, the acting Chief Magistrate then adjourned the matter until June 29th, when the charge is to be read against the two men.
On May 8th, both Singh and Brassington were hauled before the court to answer to three charges of misconduct in public office.
The charges stem from criminal investigations conducted by SOCU into the findings of a forensic audit of NICIL and specifically centre on the sale of three tracts of government land on the East Coast of Demerara, between December, 2008 and May, 2011. In one instance, it is alleged that the property was sold below market value, while in the other two the deals allegedly went ahead without proper valuations of the land.
Like with the other sales, the sale of the former Sanata Textiles Complex to QAII occurred under the former Bharrat Jagdeo-led PPP/C government and faced immense scrutiny given the close link between the former president and QAII CEO Dr Ranjisinghi “Bobby” Ramroop.
A 99-year lease had been initially granted to QAII for the development of printing, dying and textile operations at the Sanata complex.
However, the group eventually bought the complex in 2010.
Brassington in 2008 had said that once QAII came good with its US$30 million investment in the complex, it was free to exercise the option to buy the property at a price of $700 million after three years. He had also said that the price quoted was the average valuation between that which government obtain-ed from an independent valuator and one contracted by the investors.
The then government said that prior to the investment at Sanata, the annual upkeep costs in 2006 were almost $20 million: $8 million in security, $6 million in rates and taxes, and over $5 million in cleaning and miscellaneous repairs, including perimeter lighting. While parts of the complex had been rented out on short term leases, the fees collected were never sufficient to cover the upkeep.
After it was discovered that the company did not qualify under the law at the time to enjoy the benefits of the investment concessions, the former government amended the Income Tax (In Aid of Industry) Act to facilitate QAII retroactively benefitting from the concessions.